The Republican presidential field is growing by the week with candidates eager to push the party beyond Donald Trump. Yet few of the former president’s rivals tried to capitalize on the latest indictment against him on Thursday.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Sen. Tim Scott of South Carolina, and several lower-level candidates have targeted the Justice Department, criticizing federal law enforcement for years of investigations involving Trump, two once indicted and now twice indicted, still facing separate investigations into other matters.
Others, like Nikki Haley, former US ambassador to the United Nations; former Vice President Mike Pence; and the former Governor of New Jersey. cris christieeither remained silent or said they were waiting for more information to be released.
Former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson was the only prominent Republican in the race to take a harder line against Trump, reiterating an earlier call for him to drop out of the race.
A federal grand jury indicted Trump on Thursday with seven criminal counts in connection with his mishandling of classified documents at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. He is the first former president to face federal criminal charges. Earlier this year, Manhattan prosecutors indicted him for his role in bribing women, while a jury later found him responsible for sexually assaulting and defaming writer E. Jean Carroll in a civil lawsuit.
“My lawyers have been informed by the corrupt Biden administration that I have been indicted, apparently for the Pitos hoax,” Trump said. about his Social Truth platform when announcing the news of the indictment on Thursday, adding that he was asked to appear in US District Court in Miami on Tuesday.
Two sources familiar with the matter confirmed the allegation, saying the charges include false statements and conspiracy to obstruct. The New York Times he was the first to report the nature of the charges.
DeSantis, his closest competitor, according to polls, issued a tweet Thursday night who was sympathetic to Trump.
“The militarization of federal law enforcement poses a deadly threat to a free society,” DeSantis said. “For years we have witnessed uneven application of the law based on political affiliation. Why so zealous in pursuing Trump but so passive with Hillary or Hunter? The DeSantis administration will be accountable to the Department of Justice, eliminate political bias, and end gun use once and for all.»
Speaking to Fox News shortly after news of the impeachment broke, Scott, who announced his candidacy late last month, denounced the «weaponization» of federal law enforcement against Trump.
“We look at each case based on the evidence in the United States,” Scott said. “Every person is presumed innocent, not guilty, and what we have seen in recent years is the use of weapons by the Department of Justice against the former president.”
Trump’s staunchest defenders expect, if not demand, such deference, even from those who want to defeat him in the race for the Republican nomination. Charlie Kirk, the right-wing activist in tune with the Trump wing of the party, stated on Twitter that other candidates «should suspend their campaign and go to Miami as a show of support.»
«If you don’t, that’s part of the problem,» Kirk added.
A Republican close to Trump’s world, who was not authorized to speak officially, wondered how «any other Republican candidate [can] to effectively attack Trump right now, since Joe Biden’s Justice Department is literally trying to put him in a jail cell?
“How,” this source added, “do you land a single punch without looking like you are joining arms with Biden and [special counsel] Jack Smith and cheering them on for what they’re doing?
Trump’s rivals are getting used to having to answer to his legal peril. After he was indicted in Manhattan in March, Trump also garnered more sympathy than scorn from his rivals, many of whom framed the investigation as politically motivated. Last month, after a New York jury found Trump responsible for sexually abusing Carroll, many Republican presidential candidates downplayed or dodged questions about the verdict. Christie, who at the time told Fox News that the case was part of a pattern of «unacceptable» conduct, was an exception.
The contours of the Republican race have changed somewhat since then. DeSantis, who offered a stinging rebuke about «porn stars» in the days before Trump’s first impeachment, only to change his mind once the impeachment came through, launched his campaign with a not-so-subtle pitch that Republican voters they should put the drama of the Trump years behind them. Christie, once a close ally of his, made his candidacy official this week, signaling his intention to attack Trump’s failings. Pence also entered the race this week, uncorking some of his harshest condemnations of Trump yet.
But except for Hutchinson, whose campaign has largely targeted Trump-weary voters, no one took the opportunity to ridicule him. Pence, who remained silent on Thursday, refused to answer Wednesday when asked by NBC News in Ankeny, Iowa, whether Trump should end his campaign if a federal indictment was filed.
Hutchinson did not hold back on that question, criticizing Trump’s «willful disregard for the Constitution» and «disrespect for the rule of law.»
“Donald Trump is entitled to the presumption of innocence,” Hutchinson said in a statement. But “the ongoing criminal proceedings will be a huge distraction. This reaffirms the need for Donald Trump to honor office and end his campaign.»
Others promoted calls for Trump to be pardoned, either by Biden or by themselves should he win the presidency.
“It would be much easier for me to win this election if Trump were not in the race, but I stand for principle over politics,” businessman Vivek Ramaswamy, a long-lost candidate, said in a statement. «I pledge to pardon Trump immediately on January 20, 2025 and restore the rule of law to our country.»
«Forgive Trump now!» tweeted Perry Johnson, a Michigan businessman who was disqualified from last year’s Republican gubernatorial primary because he failed to gather enough valid signatures and is now running a long-shot presidential bid.
But Christie, who was a strong critic of Trump in his early days on the campaign trail, said he wanted to wait for the allegation to become public before weighing in on the matter.
«As I said before, no one is above the law.» tweeted“no matter how much they want to be”.